The Weight and Gift of Want

Growing up poor has left me, even in confident adulthood, with echoes of envy. We’d all like to believe that whatever experiences shaped us as children, somehow evaporate in maturity. That might be the story of someone else, but I am reminded with infrequent pangs that I cannot intellectualize my way out of baser feelings. I can, however, work to lessen their power over me.

canstockphoto2573736Yesterday my husband baked an acorn squash. It reminded me of the days when, as a child, we lived wholly off squash and green beans and homemade applesauce. We ate “johnny cakes” (pancakes of corn meal, water, and salt) and blocks of government cheese and butter. This was American poverty, which through international translation, is not true poverty. We had food, shelter, clothing, and school.

Our family of 6 lived in a two bedroom apartment on Main Street in a small town in Iowa. We had a parent, sometimes parents, who was concerned with our grades, our upkeep, our behavior. While our home was rife with alcoholism and domestic abuse, we were clean, fed, and polite kids.

And then there was true wealth.

If I went down the rickety back stairs to the alley and walked north half a block, I was at the public library, a square three story building with small lions on each side of the stairs. My memory is faulty. Maybe there were no lions, but I always imagined there were. I looked for pictures online, but the old building is gone, replaced by a nondescript brick building – as if to disguise its riches in mediocrity. I spent most of my childhood there, creaking across uneven, waxed wood floors for the next book and the next one and the next one.

canstockphoto2032691.jpgIn my own family circle, no one had nice stuff unless it was stolen or donated, but going to school opened the doors to want. Pretty dresses, new shoes, superhero lunchboxes. These always seemed to be accompanied by pretty people with sparkly personalities and friends. I watched from afar through thick glasses wearing my second or third-hand clothes, shy and envious.

This laid the groundwork for advertising vulnerability, as the inextricable bond between happiness/perfection and stuff was created. It is a mental connection that I must talk myself out of continually. My Amazon account would indicate that I’m not a particularly good at it.

My body also did not escape this want, having struggled with weight most of my life. Hell, I’m an American woman through and through. Even when my weight is fine, I still struggle. But my body remembers hunger. My brother and I would get up in the night and “steal” food and my mother would lose her ever-loving mind to discover only half a loaf of bread was left in the morning. There was only so much to go around.

I canstockphoto23889437.jpgover-buy. Our cupboards reflect that. Two of everything. I tell myself that since we’ll use it, it’s not a waste to buy two instead of one. If it were not for my compulsive organizational habits, our house would groan with the weight of my wants. Fortunately, living in small spaces all my life has been useful. My wants are constrained by my desire for space and neatness.

In the more tumultuous years we moved a lot. I learned to know exactly what I had in my possession. I know what I need to grab on the go. My stint in the Army reinforced this habit. This is where the weight of my want can entangle me, make me lose time. I have to straighten and inventory often. Everything has its place. My family doesn’t have this compulsion. I’ve stopped fighting their entropy and maintain my own spaces.

It is frustrating, at 51, to recognize the source of my behaviors and to still frequently feel at their beck and call. I can only walk myself through it, slow my actions, and try to remember that it is pointless to try and satisfy this gaping maw of want. This kind of hunger has no end, only a beginning, its imprint indelible, but not unmanageable.

canstockphoto12816020Today, my daughter and I volunteer at our local food shelf. She has never known want. She will likely never stockpile, covet, or look longingly at others who have more. I’m very glad of that and in exchange, I have taught her the value of civic service – an awareness of the many people who are not so fortunate and our responsibility, as fellow humans, to ease their burdens. This is the gift of my want – empathy. It is a hopeful reminder that no matter how we started, we can decide who we become.

Lately, I feel like I’ve been moralizing a lot. I think I do this as a way of combating the anger I feel when I see and hear the many people in our society who believe in the bootstrap bullshit, even as they blame everyone else for their woes. None of us advance without the assistance of others and our society is defined by how we treat the least among us. Herein ends the sermon.

On a lighter note, I met Walt’s challenge of writing a creepy story under 899 words. Get some heebie-jeebs over at Waltbox.

A Misshapen Valentine that I Made Myself

canstockphoto1838112It was at a relative’s funeral over 15 years ago that I began to wonder about my ability or inability to love. The spouse of the deceased, an awkward and unlikable man, cornered me. He began to explain my relatives to me in critical terms. She doesn’t know how to love. They are such cold people. He would never understand love. Grieving requires latitude, so I stood there, numbly, and listened as he described the people I loved as terrible. And maybe they were.

I’ve written before about my upbringing and childhood. And it is only significant in the fact that it had consequences. I was a sensitive, shy kid in a household where tears and really, any emotion, were mocked or ridiculed or punished. When I laughed I was too loud, when I cried I was being too sensitive, when I was sick I was faking it, when I was angry, I was unjustified. Toughen up was the order of the day.

So I did. I took up sarcasm and cynicism as weapons and armor. I worked when I was sick. I cried in private. I muffled my laughter and subdued any excitability. I smoothed out the sheets until there was not a wrinkle in sight. I grew up, muted and self-conscious of any outward indications of emotion.

I did well in the Army. No drill sergeant could yell me into anything more than a look of stony silence. I’d stare placidly as my bunk was torn apart and an angry man got up in my face screaming about my worthlessness. It was nothing to me.

canstockphoto13168497Once I started college, I couldn’t relate to the excitable undergrads and buried myself in work. The cracks were beginning to show. I began to suffer chronic depression. The emotions that I’d suppressed had begun to curl inward and were finding their way into toxic relationships and self-destructive behaviors that left me gasping for air.

But I was tough. I could survive. I could make it through anything, especially the self-generated miseries. Two decades of muted smiles and disdain for anything sentimental or emotional. I was still me, sensitive to not only the moods and whims of others, but of the environment, of sounds and smells and shifts in the wind. I just had a hard shell.

This is what we’re told as children – grow up, toughen up, be like an adult. A generous interpretation is that we fear for these little, soft beings going out in the world. So often, though, we’re re-enacting our own childhood pains and fears, wishing on our children a kind of protection we never had.

It would be easy for me to say that being in a happy marriage and having a healthy child was what changed me. It did. How could it not? But the change began happening before he came along and she was born.

canstockphoto18089949It started with decisions. A decision to leave a dead-end job that made me feel stupid. A decision to leave a relationship that would have gone nowhere, a relationship that made me feel inferior and worthless. A decision to leave a town where I’d worked through a lot of permutations and none of them fit.

Then there was therapy. Talking about things I’d never talked about, to a person who didn’t have a horse in the race. Crying a lot. Often feeling worse than I’d ever felt in my life. The cracks became canyons and I feared I would never get out. But every gaslight was extinguished when the therapist leaned in, with a quizzical look on her face and said “You do understand that they were trying to hurt you, right?” The elemental difference between feeling worthless and not.

I’ve softened over the years. It’s uncomfortable to me still. Sometimes I’ll hear myself laugh and I’ll think stop that cackling, a phrase I heard repeatedly as a child. But I split my heart wide open when I committed to a marriage. I laid all my vulnerabilities out on the table when my child smiled her first smile.

canstockphoto20639927The softening of middle age isn’t just happening around the middle. I seem to be leaking tears and flashing smiles at the most inopportune moments. It feels like an odd awakening to the exquisite beauty of this fragile existence.

I will never be an effusive person or greet Valentine’s day with much more than a grimace. But my family is well-loved year round and I laugh a lot these days. I’m at a point where repairs are no longer underway, my psyche no longer under construction.

There’s a peppy little song by Cathy Heller called “Gonna Be Happy”.  The lyrics are saccharine sweet, but there’s a line that has burned itself in my brain.

How can we set each other free?

I’ve been thinking about this as I go about my day. I’ve been watching people – at the grocery store, at concerts, walking their dogs, talking to their children, using their walkers, and blasting their car radios. And that line pops into my head.

It’s realizing that a smile can make a difference in a person’s day. It’s understanding that most people are not out to intentionally hurt us, that we are all on our own orbital paths and sometimes that makes us careless of other humans. It’s assuming the best, giving the benefit of the doubt, of attributing things not to malevolence, but to inattention.

canstockphoto3960689It’s love turned outward. It’s that moment when it cannot be contained and wrangled into submission – when the impulse to smile or laugh or cry is no longer embarrassing or shameful. It’s startling when it happens. My first thought is always “Who is this weirdo and what do they want?” But defensiveness obscures my vision, makes me miss the moment, the connection. Curiosity is the antidote and is, in some ways, the best gift of love we can offer each other.

When You Only Have So Many Words and None of Them are Adequate

The Green Study is taking a break until December 1, 2017.

canstockphoto5847421Last year, I went to a lecture where journalist and novelist Anna Quindlen spoke about her writing practices and career. One of the things she said was that while she was working on a project, she limited how much time she spent answering emails and engaging others. “I only have so many words.” I’ve thought a lot about that phrase, wondering if there really is a limit to my creative reservoir.

I’ve made a habit over the last five years of posting personal essays. Most of the time I was circumspect, able to write them at a distance and not when they were raw. Lately, though, I’ve been feeling tapped out personally, too enraged politically, and unable to rein in my emotions. It’s probably time to stop doing that for a bit. Maybe I was just scraping away the layers until I hit the gooey core, but the gooey core is here and it’s messy, disorienting, and raw.

I’ve written frequently about depression over the years, but there are so many different kinds. It might have been turning 50, or watching my child become who she is supposed to be – in contrast to my own paralysis, or just the flip of a neural/hormonal switch, but this year I’ve felt a drag on my daily life, this weight pressing slightly more each day. I’ve become habituated to repressing emotions, repackaging them in a logical manner, presenting them as if I have my shit together. All the while, I feel a sense of grief and rage and disorientation just burbling beneath the surface.

We do this – we rearrange and rationalize and give 45 degree corners to those emotions that make us uncomfortable. We turn them inward and that rage, sadness, bitterness morphs into a low-level depression, until a phase becomes a lifestyle. Creative people put rawness into their art and maybe that shores them up, makes it tolerable.

canstockphoto5423745I used to believe that I was a creative person, but I’ve spent too much energy trying to look put together. I’ve spent a lot of time being responsible, keeping myself controlled, and rational. I’m living in a world where I’m not allowing room for my own messiness, surrounded by a culture that will look at sheer lunacy and say well, that’s different.

canstockphoto21530517It has hit me that art requires messiness and rawness and vulnerability, because art requires an elemental sort of truth and you can’t land on it by keeping your shit together all the time. As I said to a friend yesterday, I feel like a complete and utter fraud. She’d read somewhere that feeling like a fraud means you’re getting somewhere, because you are operating outside of your comfort zone. And that means growth.

It’s been a surprise in midlife to realize that those issues in the first decade or so of life follow a person. They have reverberations through the following decades of your story. Many of us spend our entire lives trying to resist, change, or rewrite that story, but it’s our core story. Messages for better or for ill burrow inside our brains and many of them are just plain wrong. But they’ve left their mark and they influence our behavior and perceptions. Until we are deliberate in challenging those messages that do us harm, they will rear their ugly heads over and over. And we’re stuck.

canstockphoto1074433I’ve been stuck for a long time, but things are uncoiling. My emotions have told my mind that it can just fuck right off. It’s “Feeling Time”. If you’re relatively smart, your rationalizing skills are likely top-notch. You can intellectualize the hell out of any morass of emotion, produce a white paper and a TED talk, and not feel a damned thing. It’s the feeling part that’s messy, that makes you feel like an unhinged nutter. It’s not comfortable, but it’s necessary.

I see it as analogous to what is happening in our country right now. It’s messy. It’s extremely uncomfortable for many of us. There’s fear and anger and anxiety. My optimistic self says that it’s evolution – all the cultural and social shifts are happening in a relatively short period of time. Resistance to those changes is normal and natural, but temporary for all but a diminishing minority. This is the ebb and flow of growth.

People are in a hurry to make nice. To smooth out the wrinkles, repress dissent, legislate away the angry voices rising up, to make it look like our patchwork quilt of a country isn’t coming apart at the seams. It is and it isn’t. Some things are holding strong. Some people are emerging as real heroes and some of us are more enlightened than we have ever been before. I believe there is hope to be found, but it does mean turning away from the headlines and looking below the fold.

canstockphoto40402861Personally, I am dissolving into a bit of a mess.  I’ve begun to disintegrate mid-conversation with friends and feelings are rising in me that no amount of editing can rearrange. I know it’s a good thing in theory, but for now, it feels like absolute shit. It’s not “normal” for me when normal was keeping things squared away. It’s not normal for me to keep manically humming Moby songs like some deranged hipster. I don’t want to talk out loud about it. I don’t want to repackage it for the consumption of others.

Sometimes in a world where everyone is saying everything for the benefit of an audience, there’s no time to tend to our inner lives. If we’re lucky and I think that I am, our inner voice becomes so loud and rancorous as to demand our attention. My inner voice has hopped up on a table, stripped off its clothes, and insisted on dancing Gangnam Style. It feels damned embarrassing and uncensored and not intended for public viewing.

I like to wrap up a post with some rationale, some message that says to a reader Hey, she’s not a headcase. She has her shit together. But why lie? I don’t have it together. I might, but I don’t right now.  See you in December.

canstockphoto11539176

It Might Be Bigger on the Inside

canstockphoto7508497The school bus had been gutted, seats replaced by plywood that would make a table and then a bed platform and then a bathroom stall. My stepfather was always coming up with creative ways to use cheap things he’d acquired, a forerunner of the reuse and recycle crowd before it became trendy. The school bus into a camper was the most odd, and where we’d end up living for a time while he turned an old gas station into a house.

Our first vacation in the bus was to a lake and campground in Iowa. As a child, it all seemed a grand adventure to me, unaware of the incongruity of a school bus parked amidst RVs and tent campers. I think my mother and stepdad were heady with accomplishment, even as my mother snapped at us to sit down and stop making so much racket, a common refrain in the early years.

canstockphoto15179487It must have been an adventure to my parents, too – lit with the possibilities that if a school bus could be a camper, then all the other things could be something else, too. Every dream was fraught with danger, though. The gas station cum family home became a prison to us and we had to leave him and it. For years the school bus camper sat, incapacitated, off to the side, a centerpiece in a garden of weeds.

This year, my husband, daughter, and I decided to rent a cabin a few hours north, where we’d been many years ago, when my daughter wasn’t yet afraid of spiders or boredom. The cabin is primitive by Minnesota standards, where cabins have quickly taken on the size and cost of a second home.

It’s early in the morning. I ended up sleeping on the couch to spare my husband the jet engine snoring that has become a hallmark of my middle-aged years. It suits me fine, since I can get up at 4, make coffee and write without waking anyone. There’s a chill in the air this morning, but I sit outside comforted by the rustle of birch leaves and rat-a-tat-tat of a yellow-bellied sapsucker that has chosen a metal sign to announce his presence.

On our way to the cabin, we stopped at a restaurant to get a late lunch. We’ve had this habit over the years of avoiding ubiquitous Subways in favor of the local habitats – diners that are also collectibles dealers and bus stations and post offices and, in the past, the only Wi-Fi connection in town.

canstockphoto14291217This particular diner had a bar downstairs. At two in the afternoon, patrons slid past the diner counter mumbling “Is the bar open?” as if it were the password to a speakeasy. We sat at the counter instead of a table, something I insist on, having seen too many 1950s movies and knowing in my writer brain, that it’s where we witness more.

Small town diners remind me forever and always of a diner I worked in as a teenager. Almost every small town diner has the taped-up, yellowing handwritten signs letting you know that they don’t take checks or that you can buy whole pies for a very hopeful price. There’s the shelf of mugs for the coffee club, handmade goods at the front counter, embroidered framed pictures about your biblical blessings and others that bless the meat you are about to eat, by covering the surrounding walls with dead animal heads, watching over you as you eat their progeny.

Part of me takes a mocking view, but it is the mentality of an escapee. The bad outweighed the good in the small town I went to high school in – I only associate it with the times the police were called to our house, the very public way in which a family disintegrates. Everyone knows, which is just about as horrifying as it gets for a self-conscious teenager, mortified when kind teachers or employers offer her a place to stay.

The diner I worked in was a refuge of sorts. The owners were terrible business people, but kind and generous to a fault. I was allowed to stay after closing time, playing Ms. Pac-Man on a gigantic arcade machine in the corner with the boss and eating free pie. As in most diners, there was an elderly woman who came in and baked pies every week – hand-rolled crusts lovingly worked at for hours, only to be filled with canned fruit. Best pies I ever had.

canstockphoto3866106When the waitress comes, my husband and I get the meager salad bar. My vegetarian daughter tries to order their breakfast croissant without the meat and egg, with just cheese. The order confuses the waitress and she launches into a long discussion with the cook. They hesitantly deliver what looks like a fried croissant, no cheese. We fare no better. The tomatoes taste as if they’re going south and there is fish next to them –  pickled herring, which my Scandinavian husband says is a thing for putting on salads. The pie in the jewel case that taunted us throughout the meal tastes like an under-cooked, soggy Pop Tart.

We cannot revisit the nostalgic comforts of youth, due to either flawed memories or absent any context. Maybe the pie of my teenage days was exactly the same, but in the context of the constant anxiety I had about what was happening at home, it was something of sweet, predictable comfort.

It makes me think how we rarely understand other people’s attachments and are so quick to condemn them. It is only now that I see the optimism in that old school bus, the reason that I’m drawn to diners, the sundry ways we lean this way or that. It means we must tread lightly in our criticisms and mockery, for what we see as frivolous or cloyingly sentimental, could be something else entirely.

Refuge

canstockphoto10595770I’d forgotten what it was like to lose myself in a book and not the news. Admittedly the books I’m losing myself in lately have been Orwell’s 1984 and Gene Sharp’s The Methods of Nonviolent Action. But I’d forgotten about what grounds me.

Last month, I did a clearing out of my books, donating or selling a third of my collection. As I looked at each book, it was like looking through a photo album. Remember when…

Long wooden steps led down to the back alley from our apartment. I rarely walked down them at night. There was a tavern below us and usually there would be one or two men taking leaks on the brick wall by the back door. During the day, from the the time I was 5 years old until I was 12, when we moved away, I could walk down the alley, cross the street and there, in a gray, square building with wide steps and heavy wood doors was the public library. There were three floors. The top floor had the children’s books.

canstockphoto22317573The heavily waxed wood floors would creak with every step and occasionally fluorescent lights would flicker, but this was my sanctuary. No matter how bad it got at home, people here had to be quiet, with only the flip-flip-flip of catalog cards, the rustle of turning pages.

There was an area with kids’ chairs and tables and sometimes I’d read there, but more often than not, I’d be on my haunches in some back corner reading a book. The librarian helped me learn how to use the card catalog. Whenever I went onto the 1st and 2nd floors to look at grownup and reference books, I felt like I was a reading rebel.

I checked out as many books as I could carry. I’d drag home Ed Emberly books to learn how to draw animals and joke books to try and make my mother laugh. I loved the Childhood of Famous American series, reading about Annie Oakley, Harriet Tubman and Will Rogers. My favorite heroes were Nellie Bly and Abraham Lincoln.

canstockphoto8060578I’d owned only a few books as a kid. My mother lent me her copy of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men. It was a book my great-grandmother gave my mother while she stayed a summer in England. I read that book over and over. When she let me have it for keeps (well into adulthood), I had to have it rebound, so yellowed and fragile its binding and pages.

I had some newer books that my grandparents gave to me at birthdays and holidays. My grandfather worked for a bookseller, visiting libraries all over the Midwest, so there were random books – African Folk Tales, Nancy Drew, Sherlock Holmes and Mark Twain. My other grandfather, who I’d met once in my lifetime, came from Alaska with a book about the Eskimos called The Reindeer Trail. He gave that to me along with some homemade molasses cookies that looked like glossy, hardened lava wrapped in tinfoil.

I’ve been struggling these days to be attentive to self-care when so much is happening beyond the walls of my study. Depression and anxiety are wearing me down. So instead of reaching for booze, or what I crave most when I’m anxious – a pack of cigarettes and caffeinated coffee, I reach for a book.

As I watch the parade of old white men signing and grinning, the news dominated by smirks and back patting, I realize that in truth, they’ve always seemed like aliens to me. That they do not represent me. In every reincarnation, I’m still only a peasant – my life changed on a whim by forces beyond my control. I call and write and am civically engaged, but it often feels like spitting in the wind.

canstockphoto3140121Every once in a while, I’ll be doing a mundane task, like folding laundry and it strikes me that those men in power have likely never done that. Of course, I’ve never kissed a million asses, either or misunderstood the word ethics. Worlds apart. In most of those worlds, I don’t count. Only power and avarice are recognized. Reality deems that despite all the destructive things being done in the name of power, my life still relies on the vicissitudes of the common moment.

Whatever happens, I will still be caring for my family, making sure my daughter gets an education, volunteering in my community (although whether it’s tutoring or smuggling will depend on the times), trying to make sure we all stay healthy and strong – even if it’s so bad that we’re treating our own water supply and whispering to each other the real news of the day.

canstockphoto5738584No matter what happens, my days carry a sameness. I pet the cats. I water and care for an indoor garden I’ve grown of roses and lavender. I laugh with my daughter. I hug my husband close and remind myself of the realness of my life and not what I read in the news. I type and write until my hands ache. The delicate balance of loving what I have in my world now, while not putting blinders on to the dangers that will soon infect us all.

canstockphoto10170102Refuge. A place to make it all stop, if only for a few moments. We need it now more than ever. So I open a book and walk with Orwell’s Winston. His world is more bereft of joy than mine. And it’s a schadenfreude about which I have to feel no guilt. It just might be us in the future, but that time is not yet now. The sun is out today and Pete, our one-eared tomcat, stretches out at my feet, on a warm spot of carpet. Turning the page makes the loudest sound in the room and it comforts me.

A Birthday, Allelopathy, and an Epiphany

canstockphoto8352036This summer has been one of my worst summers since that year I had to go to church camp and make macrame owls, alongside girls who wanted to try on my glasses and giggle hysterically about how bad my eyesight was. Haha, dumbasses, you can’t Lasik stupid away.

When they say someone has snapped, I always think that must be a relative term. One person’s breakage is a trip to the grocery store for another. My trip to the grocery store involved me being angry for weeks on end. I’m still feeling pretty hostile.

It’s a child’s rage and it took me completely off guard. I turned 48 last week and for the months prior, I felt this anger build. We’re told that women tend to turn their anger inwards, but my depression was not a big enough vessel to contain it this time.

As hard as I try, I think I’m kind of a shitty human being. Some people go through life effortlessly, with little introspection or regret. Part of me wonders what that would be like. The rest of me thinks they’re either extremely healthy or sociopaths.

canstockphoto1830736Over the last couple of years, I’ve struggled with the do-gooder me. Like a cheesy answer to a job interview question about weaknesses, I feel overly responsible for others. Leading the parent-teacher group, taking care of my mother-in-law, stepping up when volunteers are asked for, donating money, goods, time. I’ve done a lot of organized volunteer work in my life, as well as the informal saying “yes” when someone asks for help. I was a problem solver, reliable, responsible and generous.

Something has changed. I’ve become so angry and resentful that I’m blurting “NO!” even before someone finishes the question. The pendulum has swung. My motivation for doing good often lay with my sense that I was not good enough. And that no longer seems a good enough reason.

It starts young, this goodness of the heart that really isn’t. It starts with the oldest child in a family of alcoholics. It starts with words. Lowbrow versions of not good enough, not pretty enough, not thin enough, not outgoing enough. Thoughtless words tossed off by adults who were never enough, either.

canstockphoto10740080It starts the first time you believe that a fundamentalist God will strike you dead because you lied about sneaking food at night. Dear god, please don’t kill me. I’ll be ever so good. It starts when adults praise and fawn over you because you are such a good, polite little girl, but you know that it’s an act. Theirs and yours.

It starts when you’re 11 and your stepfather passes out while driving and you desperately tug at the steering wheel and push your foot on the brake to steer to the shoulder. It starts when you quickly gather your brothers and sister, herding them out of the house before the punching starts. You are 13 and responsible for their lives. From that point on, you feel responsible for everything.

It continues when you have trouble making friends, because you’re an introvert. So you do favors. You give rides and money, make them laugh, drink enough to be outgoing. They seem to like you. You try to be agreeable, even though you think their latest perm makes them look like Carrot Top and that their boyfriends are numb-nuts. You keep your sharper opinions to yourself, smile when you don’t feel like it and drive them to the movie theater to see a movie you don’t want to see.

It continues when your boyfriend calls you a whore for not being a virgin and you think he is right, because they all are. You thrive at Army basic training because being screamed at that you’re too slow or fat or stupid or woman is nothing new. It doesn’t phase you. You think you’ve got it under control. The rules are laid out for you to follow and you follow them.

It continues for decades. You are a good employee, loving spouse, decent parent, reliable friend. Your anger is this vague, pulpy mess that you sort of, kind of, blame on others’ expectations and exhaustion. And that works for awhile. Until it doesn’t. Until one day, you wake up and realize that it’s all you. Your expectations and demands of yourself are holding you hostage.

canstockphoto9946409Insomnia has become my new thing. I lay wide awake at 3am, my witching hour. I think, what if I stopped doing it all? Would anyone even notice? Bit by bit, as I do less, no one really has. For a moment, I mourn the wasted time and feel a little sorry for myself. And then there’s the anger that smells like childhood. How could you be so stupid, so misdirected, so delusional?

No, no, that’s not right. I’m confused. I thought I was less than, so I worked to be good, but now I’m angry about the fact that I was “good” for all the wrong reasons and because of that, I’m less than. Dysfunctional math at its finest.

They call it a midlife crisis, as if it’s a one-time event solved by a racy car, a gym membership, a young lover, airline miles. Maybe for some, it is. For me, it’s a slow burn in place, growing more intense by the moment. It’s not a lifetime of regret, it’s the thought oh no, I want to do so much more. Time has taken on a physical quality. Every activity is weighed and measured and found wanting.

There will be a contingent of people who tell me none of it matters as long as good was done. It reminds me of a term in nature called allelopathy. The word allelopathy comes from the Greek, meaning “mutual harm” and defines the biochemical effect plants can have, both positive and negative, on the organisms and plants around them.

canstockphoto10644936In my case, I have this old, scraggly tree that grew from those childhood years, overshadowing the ground around it. But there is a seedling, borne of the love I’ve given and received, of those moments of happiness and creativity, of contented solitude. It has grown as high as it will be allowed to while that old tree shades it. And that, my friends, is an epiphany.